As I'd add what were truly PA speakers, I felt a little dirty because of the comments about how PA speakers in general sound bad, or how a particular speaker was poor-performing.
But I think this discussion is important, because it's a counter-point to what's been prejudiced in our industry/hobby for a long time, and I think is a dirty little secret.
In fact, the more I'd learn and listen (to my own speakers' limited dynamic range, and the improvement after adding 98dB sensitive speakers), the more frustrated and curious I became about it all. I like to ask the big questions, and I've been wrestling with these for years:
- A: Why are speaker manufacturers pretending all their speakers have a huge big dynamic sound?
- B: Why do most speaker companies design for low extension in all their models?
- C: Why do people shop for extension when they're going to be using subwoofers?
- D: Why don't more people complain about their compressed dynamics? Why don't they try to solve it?
- E: Why don't people listen louder, such that they'd need the high dynamic capability at high SPL of other speakers?
- F: Why don't speaker reviewers, who should be the voice of the people and hold manufacturers accountable, talk more about this, show us how the speakers perform at macrodynamics?
Here are my thoughts and what I've seen others say...
A: Speaker Manufacturers Advertise Big Sound in Everything
This is just marketing, and not wanting to admit to any shortcomings in any products. I am attracted to a seller/maker who lays it out with no BS: "These are my products, and this is why you'd want to buy this one over this one. This
one is stronger/faster/louder/smoother/prettier/more reliable etc. than this
Hoffman's Iron Law: pick any two of: small size, efficiency, or low extension.
I wish companies would design and market their speakers so that were shown to fall into a spectrum (triangle?) of Hoffman's Iron Law. In gaming, this concept of tradeoffs and no free lunch is common. You can have strength but you must sacrifice intelligence, etc. In automobiles, consumer all understand that you can't have a strong heavy powerful car that can tow 15,000 lbs. AND accelerate rapidly with a high max speed. And if you even approached such a product, it certainly wouldn't be affordable. Not a tough concept to get.
Instead, speakers are advertised like "you can have it all!". That's a lie, and it hurts us customers.
B: Why design almost all speakers for low extension?
I think there's a feedback loop, where reviewers and trade publications don't help educate consumers, consumers look for low extension even when they'll use a sub for theater, manufacturers cater to this and aim for 30-50Hz in bookshelves and 25-40Hz in towers.
The situation hasn't been helped by the trend for "lifestyle" speakers that are small and unobtrusive.
Sometimes trends are bad. Like carpet in kitchens and bathrooms... a lot of smart people sold and bought that.
Now, I have zero objections to making, selling, and buying a small speaker that's 84dB sensitive. My issue is that sellers pretend that it'll give you big movie theater / rock concert sound.
I have zero objections to a medium size speaker that extends to 35Hz and can handle 150w. I just think this is a speaker suited for the small room without a sub, or for lower volume listening.
I wish speakers would be designed and marketed along Hoffman's Iron Law.
C: Why do consumers shop for low extension?
- Real small speakers with high (poor) extension and low efficiency: Lifestyle speakers that should be crossed over high with a sub. Don't expect big sound.
- Smaller cheaper speakers with low extension (digs deep) and low efficiency: Use without a sub, don't expect big sound.
- Smaller expensive (high power handling) speakers with low extension (digs deep) and low efficiency: Use without a sub, throw a lot of watts at them for higher SPL without distortion.
- Smaller speakers with poor extension and medium-high efficiency: Use with a sub, get more SPL using just a receiver.
- Medium-sized speakers with high efficiency and poor extension: I think this is sweet spot for home theater. Use with a sub and a receiver for decent dynamics.
- Medium-sized speakers with poor efficiency and low extension: These trick consumers the most. Use them without a sub for music or casual TV.
- Large speakers that do better with efficiency and/or extension: Kick-ass!
Lack of consumer education and a trickery by manufacturers.
We don't know all that we don't know. If a consumers don't know that they might want higher SPL macrodynamics, how do they know how to shop for it? How do they know that they have to deal with the same compromises as my above auto example. The concept of deep extension is much more understandable than speaker efficiency and distortion.
Contrast this confusing topic with amplifiers, where those products are at least a LITTLE regulated, and enthusiasts look at the frequency range, watts, and distortion at that max output.
Enthusiasts have started to accept that a small subwoofer with a middlin' amp will not provide 17Hz extension and high output to reference levels. But if those people don't know about their main speaker distortion, it's understandable that the average consumer won't understand the tradeoffs either.
D & E: Consumers and Dynamics
You can get big dynamics at any volume level. Dynamics is about contrast. But first you have to get above a noise floor. And high SPL dynamics stimulates in a way that listening at -30 master volume does not, e.g. the mid-bass slam.
I think one problem is that we conflate "too loud" (SPL is too high) with "too loud and became bad" (SPL makes speaker/amp bad)
How can one separate those two, unless they know that distortion is skyrocketing, or they can compare to a system that can play at the same high SPL but cleanly. The latter is usually revelatory for people.
I liken it to driving fast in a old poor car. It's uncomfortable. If that was my only high mph driving experience, I'd tell the world "no one should drive fast, accelerate fast, or drive fast on twisty roads!"
Contrast that to a fine luxury sports car, and the experience is completely different.
So for those that WOULD like to listen at higher SPL, we turn it up until we or our spouses cringe (I hear that women are more sensitive to distortion, so maybe we men should pay more attention to them) and we back off and say, "Any higher than -12 master volume is just stupid loud."
Consumers would be shocked at how much speakers distort
at lower level. And how much that distortion skyrockets at higher level.
are hard to get ahold of. They're hard to measure, they're harder to discern the distortion in them. As MKTheater says, those unclipped peaks just makes everything sound more "real". It's not just about rockets and gun shots and huge drums, either. Even dishes clattering in the sink can have surprisingly loud brief transients. Most speakers can't even reproduce that accurately.
So if we don't know what we're missing, we won't take measures to correct the situation.
F: Speaker Reviewers and Publications
Stereophile and Sound and Vision and Soundstage have published more measurements than others. Audioholics sometimes does.
It drives me nuts to see a lack of measurements in reviews.
It drives me nuts to see the measurements in Soundstage only take distortion measurements with the speaker at 95dB from 6 feet away. Push the damn speaker! Show me really where it gives up! Show me how it's handling quick peaks. I don't want to drive the speaker to +10 above reference, but when I listen below reference I want those 100dB quick peaks to sound like they're supposed to. Do they sound like they should?
I think it's getting better, what with data-bass.com doing subs, Audioholics using Ricci's data, etc. Software like REW now has burst signals, which some industry experts
have advocated as a part of speaker evaluation for years.
Distortion is a tricky thing. Simple THD doesn't tell a complete story. It doesn't reveal types of distortion that might be much more egregious. Other times it makes the speaker look much worse than it is (e.g. even order distortion that just sounds like harmonics and might even be subjectively preferred.
More work needs to be done on intermodulation distortion
I'm glad I see some of the magazines posting impedance plots. I think this is important, because:
Speakers "lie" about nominal impedance. Somehow the speaker is labelled "8 ohm compatible" but they have a dip to 3 ohms?! Come on. If there's a dip to 3 ohms in mid-bass and the driver will draw more than twice the watts as what you'd think, this is a concern. Is the driver being sent enough watts to make it nonlinear and distort? Is the amp being over-driven?
If we had something more like Ricci's data on main speakers, and good sorting and tabulation of that data, the industry would be moved forward a giant leap.
"More data, less wank!"